I didn't know how lucky I was to have a normal first pregnancy.
When I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I just assumed it would go well. I made sure I ate my fruits and vegetables, eliminated caffeine and took my vitamins. But for some reason, something was always just "off" about my second pregnancy. I felt less energetic, overall unwell and more anxious.
When my blood pressure went up around 20 weeks, I didn't really think a lot about it. The doctor put me on medicine and followed me more closely. But something had already started in my body that no one could stop. Once the protein showed up in my urine, things went downhill fast. The swelling began, my platelet count crashed and my blood pressure skyrocketed. I was hospitalized at 24 weeks with severe preeclampsia and six very traumatic, stressful days later, my second child was forced silently into the world. Way too soon.
My husband and I found ourselves back at the children's hospital. We knew all about pediatric oncology, but we didn't know a thing about preemies, especially micro preemies. We were shocked at how tiny everything was, especially the precious fingers and toes on our red, transparent... baby? That was our baby?
I speak often on the kid's issues and rarely talk about mine. No one told me how I would feel. That having a child four months early would send me into mourning for the loss of the pregnancy itself. In the hospital, every time I heard the music signal a new baby was born, it sounded more like the scary nursery music in a horror movie. I was recovering from a C-section with a baby fighting for her one-pound life in the NICU and hearing other moms give birth to healthy babies. Those stupid, lucky other mothers.
I felt like a failure. I'd had two children; the first got cancer and now the second one was probably going to die because I couldn't hold up my end of the bargain. I'd brought our whole family back into the world of sickness and worry. The guilt was all-encompassing.
Sadness is normal; of course you're going to be sad you left the hospital with an empty carseat. I could try to hide sadness by crying in the shower or in the car on the way to and from visiting Abby.
The other emotion I didn't foresee was the jealousy. Seeing other pregnant women was incredibly difficult. It made me angry that they could have healthy pregnancies, but I couldn't. I had to bite my tongue when I heard women complain about being tired, swollen or couldn't sleep well at night anymore. I would've given anything to be in their shoes instead of my own. Seeing my friends announce their pregnancies on Facebook with cute pictures was torture. The absolute worst was encountering a mother smoking in her car with her perfectly healthy kids in the back seat. My baby was on a ventilator and would probably have asthma, my other child got cancer at the age of 1. Here she was freely exposing her kids to secondhand smoke and cancer. Oh man, I flashed red; I wanted to remove my earrings, walk over and ask her to step outside.
Whew, got myself all worked up on that one again.
In all honestly, what helps the most is time. It gives you perspective and compassion. Time allows for gradual healing of very raw wounds. The intensity of the emotions wears off, but the feelings take a long time to go away. In fact, I'll let you know when I know. Until then, if you know someone who's had a premature baby or a child that requires a NICU stay, here's some advice I can pass along.
- Give them space to mourn.
- Let them talk about their feelings, whatever they are.
- Don't try to force the bright side of things, like remarking on how the baby weight comes off quicker at 24 weeks vs. 40 weeks.
- Never suggest they pack up their maternity clothes until they suggest it themselves. Then you can help.
- Make sure to congratulate them on the birth of their baby, because even though it's early, it still happened!
- Understand when they RSVP "no", especially baby showers or events that will have pregnant women or lots of babies.
- Don't compare your full-term baby around the same age to their baby. It's not the same.
Since no one told me, I hope it helps that I'm telling you. It's no fun learning the hard way.